You got it right! This is the artist depiction of the second phase of the NUL Innovation Hub. That means the first phase is already here, alive and kicking. Now, the National University of Lesotho (NUL), ever restless these days, is already drawing plans for the second phase of the Hub. Each building will have a capacity to host 50 businesses. And the plan is to have two buildings for a start and to host 100 businesses by NUL Graduates, Staff and Students.

Today, we are going to run through Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the ever exciting idea of the NUL Innovation Hub.

Question 1: But first, what is this innovation thing to start with?

This is the trickiest question of them all. That is because innovation is different things to different people. So, many people know innovation as creativity and novelty (coming up with something new). Let’s understand the two. A talented singer comes up with a new song, or an artist makes a brilliant unique portrait. That is creativity.

A talented inventor comes up with a new way of pulling moisture from air to make drinking water. That is novelty. His work can even be patented.

However, none of the above are innovations.

But when that singer brings guitarists, trumpeters and pianists to produce that song for sales for people to enjoy the music, that is innovation. And when the guy who created a drinking water-making process develops it into a machine that is sold in the markets to solve drought problems, that is innovation.

Here are the 4 characteristics of innovation: (a) It normally based on research, (2) it involves collaboration because a number of people with different skills are involved, (c) it involves practical application of an idea [it may be good and new, but is not innovation if you don’t apply it], (d) It solves a specific problem in the society.

Question 2: What then, is the NUL Innovation Hub?

At the center of the NUL Innovation Ecosystem is the NUL Innovation Hub - a facility that seeks to incubate businesses initiated by students, staff and graduates of the University by providing space and business support services.

The aim is to assist start-up businesses to operate smoothly by creating a climate that favours their growth and inhibit business realities that often wipe off average start-ups. 
Another aim is to assist businesses to systematically grow from small businesses to large enterprises, with capacity for mass production of goods and services. This process is divided into two phases:

(a) Incubation phase: The incubation (childhood) phase is where several assumptions about a product and business model are put into the test through practical application. Products or services are taken to the market, with close attention paid on what works and what does not work from both the perspectives of the producer and the customer.

Any feedback received is used to improve the business model and product quality until such a time when it is sufficiently developed to meet the market demand. In short, a company at this childhood phase is being prepared for adolescence.

(b) Acceleration phase: Once a business has been sufficiently developed, and instead of graduating to full mass production, they are tested on another phase. This phase is called acceleration (adolescence).

If the role of incubators is to teach companies how to stand and walk, the role of accelerators is to teach them how to run. Here businesses are prepared for mass production (adulthood). So they start adopting characteristics, strategies and business models of large and established businesses despite being at a medium scale level still.

For instance, in the case of the NUL Innovation Hub, businesses will have relatively large working space. They will have more machines and more labour force. Hence they will produce more products whose visibility will be felt in the markets. Businesses will begin to develop and implement visions and management plans as they now deal with new realities and challenges of expanded production.

Question 3: How is your approach different from other innovation hubs?

(a) It incubates businesses, not entrepreneurs: Traditional incubation hubs focus on entrepreneurs, giving them some business skills for a fixed period of time while they are (somehow) engaged in some form of business. In contrast, The NUL Innovation Hub focuses on businesses themselves.

(b) It intertwines laboratory level work or research work with incubation and market feed-back:

The incubation phase at the NUL Innovation Hub is not a stand-alone process. Products that were cleared for incubation from laboratories are produced at small scale and taken to the markets. The lessons learned may require that the product is taken back to labs, reviewed and taken back to markets.

(c) It intertwines incubation and acceleration with mass-production: in the case of the NUL Innovation Hub, the very reason for incubation is so that the businesses may graduate into large scale factories for mass production.

Question 4: What is the second phase of the NUL Innovation Hub?

This first phase accommodates only 15 businesses at a time. The second phase will accommodate 100 businesses. Put simply, the second phase is the mere expansion of what the first phase is already doing.